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Kids fighting serious illness find a home at Flying Horse Farms camp

“Their medical journey isn’t dictating their camp experience."

MT GILEAD, Ohio — Like many 14-year-olds, Bella Mileti is embracing independence. And she’s still talking about what happened this summer. 

“It was six days away from my parents. Arrived on Saturday and it ended on Thursday,” she said with a smile.” Six days at summer camp at Flying Horse Farms in Mt. Gilead.

RELATED: Flying Horse Farms hits milestone summer of camp

“It was really good. I felt right at home during the summer camp. Right when I get there and settled in,” said Bella. “My mom brought all my household stuff, this way I felt right at home with the others. The other kids in my cabin. So it was like a pretty good experience for me.”

This camp has cabins, counselors and all the activities of summer camp, tailored for kids with serious illnesses, like Bella. For her mom, Andria, “When I went to drop her off at camp this summer, I saw the water tower and I was fighting tears…I would have killed to be a fly on the wall just to see her enjoy it.” 

Bella’s health is complicated. 

“Bella was born at 23 weeks,” said Andria. “She was in the NICU at Rainbow for five months. I basically moved in there. With all micro-preemies, there’s a lot of complications and delays and other things that there is no way to prepare for until you encounter them.”

Bella was diagnosed with cerebral palsy and three other rare diseases. That means daily medication, a g-tube for her nutrition, and some physical limitations. All that melts away at camp. 

RELATED: Flying Horse Farms Camp offers chance to be a kid

“Everything is set up to give them the most normal experience that they’re going to have. Their medical journey isn’t dictating their camp experience. They get to just be a kid,” said Andria. 

Bella did just that, making new friends and a favorite new hobby: ziplining. 

“They have a rope net they make everyone else climb. But for me, I have my own pull team. They hook me up to a harness. My pully team was the rest of the kids in the cabin,” she said. “There are like, 10 or 12 kids in the cabin…Yeah, they pulled me up.”

Bella and her whole family are going back in mid-October for family camp. Little Brother Dino loves the campfire. “It’s where people where pajamas and go in front of a fire.”

“They look at the whole family, not just the affected child, because they respect that everybody is impacted by this,” said Andria. 

Flying Horse Farms is free to every camper that attends, thanks to grants and generous donors. It will hold a fundraiser in Cleveland, Campfire, Friday, October 3. Sara Shookman, who is a longtime volunteer at the camp, will serve as emcee. 

RELATED: WKYC's Sara Shookman spends time with campers at Flying Horse Farms

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